Many such acts of madness did he both to Persians and allies, remaining at Memphis and opening ancient tombs and examining the dead bodies.
Translated by George C. Macaulay — our special project presenting the complete Herodotus with URLs for all of those people, places, events, and things which baffles and discourages modern readers.
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34. The following also are acts of madness which he did to the other Persians: — To Prexaspes, the man whom he honored most and who used to bear his messages (his son also was cup-bearer to Cambyses, and this too was no small honor), — to him it is said that he spoke as follows: “Prexaspes, what kind of a man do the Persians esteem me to be, and what speech do they hold concerning me?” and he said: “Master, in all other respects thou art greatly commended, but they say that thou art overmuch given to love of wine.” Thus he spoke concerning the Persians; and upon that Cambyses was roused to anger, and answered thus: “It appears then that the Persians say I am given to wine, and that therefore I am beside myself and not in my right mind; and their former speech then was not sincere.” For before this time, it seems, when the Persians and Croesus were sitting with him in council, Cambyses asked what kind of a man they thought he was as compared with his father Cyrus; and they answered that he was better than his father, for he not only possessed all that his father had possessed, but also in addition to this had acquired Egypt and the Sea. Thus the Persians spoke; but Croesus, who was present and was not satisfied with their judgment, spoke thus to Cambyses: “To me, O son of Cyrus, thou dost not appear to be equal to thy father, for not yet hast thou a son such as he left behind him in you.” Hearing this Cambyses was pleased, and commended the judgment of Croesus.
35. So calling to mind this, he said in anger to Prexaspes: “Learn then now for thyself whether the Persians speak truly, or whether when they say this they are themselves out of their senses: for if I, shooting at thy son there standing before the entrance of the chamber, hit him in the very middle of the heart, the Persians will be proved to be speaking falsely, but if I miss, then thou mayest say that the Persians are speaking the truth and that I am not in my right mind.” Having thus said he drew his bow and hit the boy; and when the boy had fallen down, it is said that he ordered them to cut open his body and examine the place where he was hit; and as the arrow was found to be sticking in the heart, he laughed and was delighted, and said to the father of the boy: “Prexaspes, it has now been made evident, as thou seest, that I am not mad, but that it is the Persians who are out of their senses; and now tell me, whom of all men didst thou ever see before this time hit the mark so well in shooting?” Then Prexaspes, seeing that the man was not in his right senses and fearing for himself, said: “Master, I think that not even God himself could have hit the mark so fairly.” Thus he did at that time: and at another time he condemned twelve of the Persians, men equal to the best, on a charge of no moment, and buried them alive with the head downwards.
36. When he was doing these things, Crœsus the Lydian judged it right to admonish him in the following words:
“O king, do not thou indulge the heat of thy youth and passion in all things, but retain and hold thyself back: it is a good thing to be prudent, and forethought is wise. Thou however are putting to death men who are of thine own people, condemning them on charges of no moment, and thou art putting to death men’s sons also. If thou do many such things, beware lest the Persians make revolt from thee. As for me, thy father Cyrus gave me charge, earnestly bidding me to admonish thee, and suggest to thee that which I should find to be good.”
Thus he counselled him, manifesting goodwill towards him; but Cambyses answered: “Dost THOU venture to counsel me, who excellently well didst rule thine own country, and well didst counsel my father, bidding him pass over the river Araxes and go against the Massagetai, when they were willing to pass over into our land, and so didst utterly ruin thyself by ill government of thine own land, and didst utterly ruin Cyrus, who followed thy counsel. However thou shalt not escape punishment now, for know that before this I had very long been desiring to find some occasion against thee.” Thus having said he took his bow meaning to shoot him, but Crœsus started up and ran out: and so since he could not shoot him, he gave orders to his attendants to take and slay him. The attendants however, knowing his moods, concealed Crœsus, with the intention that if Cambyses should change his mind and seek to have Crœsus again, they might produce him and receive gifts as the price of saving his life; but if he did not change his mind nor feel desire to have him back, then they might kill him. Not long afterwards Cambyses did in fact desire to have Crœsus again, and the attendants perceiving this reported to him that he was still alive: and Cambyses said that he rejoiced with Crœsus that he was still alive, but that they who had preserved him should not get off free, but he would put them to death: and thus he did.
37. Many such acts of madness did he both to Persians and allies, remaining at Memphis and opening ancient tombs and examining the dead bodies. Likewise also he entered into the temple of Hephaistos and very much derided the image of the god: for the image of Hephaistos very nearly resembles the Phoenician “Pataicoi”, which the Phoenicians carry about on the prows of their triremes; and for him who has not seen these, I will indicate its nature, — it is the likeness of a dwarfish man. He entered also into the temple of the Cabeiroi, into which it is not lawful for any one to enter except the priest only, and the images there he even set on fire, after much mockery of them. Now these also are like the images of Hephaistos, and it is said that they are the children of that god.
– Herodotus, Book III
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